China, EU to discuss financial crisis, climate change, rights

January 30, 2009

, BRUSSELS, Jan 30 – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao holds talks Thursday with top European Union officials focused on the financial crisis, climate change and bilateral relations with the 27-nation bloc.

Wen, on his first visit here in five years, is due to sign a raft of agreements on subjects ranging from counterfeiting and piracy, to illegal logging, mine safety and civil aviation.

It is the first European trip by a senior Chinese official since Beijing postponed a summit with the EU in December to protest French President Nicolas Sarkozy\’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama, Tibet\’s exiled spiritual leader.

France held the rotating EU presidency at the time.

However EU officials insist that human rights issues will again be raised.

"It is very important that the Chinese party understands. We are very attached to this political dialogue on all issues, including those where we do not always share the same views," one said, on condition of anonymity.

Officials acknowledge privately that the summit cancellation was uniquely in retaliation for Sarkozy\’s meeting with the Dalai Lama and that China is keen to continue dialogue on other matters.

In Berlin on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel renewed her call for China to hold talks with the Dalai Lama and offered Berlin\’s help if it could make a "constructive contribution" to a resumption of dialogue.

Relations between Germany and China soured in 2007 after Merkel met the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a dangerous separatist, prompting Beijing to suspend bilateral talks on legal reforms in China that only recently resumed.

Accompanied by four ministers and a number of deputies, Wen will hold talks with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, along with EU commissioners responsible for monetary affairs, trade, the environment, research and external relations.

They will be joined later by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who could urge Wen to reconsider the summit postponement.

On the financial crisis, Barroso and his team will repeat Merkel\’s plea that protectionism must not be the answer to national economic troubles and urge closer coordination particularly in trade to fight the downturn.

"One of the key messages is the link between the financial crisis and trade, and the importance of maintaining open markets during this financial crisis," a commission official said ahead of the visit.

"The crisis should not lead us to close down markets, to try to salvage things unilaterally. We have to work together," he said.

The EU also wants to encourage China, a major world polluter, to join its efforts to fight global warming ahead of key climate change talks in Copenhagen late this year.

"China is the world\’s biggest emitter of CO2 gases right now, and we need them onboard for a solution," the commission official said.

"We want to see emerging economies such as China of course, but also India, Brazil and others, to be part of the solution for the post-Kyoto period," he said.

"We need to think forward, and we need to get a comprehensive agreement for the post 2012-period that involves these emerging economies."

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